Overwintering my strawberr;y towers

andyinnycMay 8, 2012

Hi all.

I have 2 strawberry towers made of 8" PVC with 5 feet sticking out of the ground (the remaining length is in-ground to provide balance/support).

The towers have either 2" or 1.5" holes (I don't remember which) with around 75 strawberry plants growing in each tower.

The towers are filled with 1-1-1 mix and the strawberries are doing quite nicely.

I'm in Mercer County, NJ (near Princeton), so we have snow and freezing in Winter.

What do I do to protect the plants in Winter so that I don't have a total kill-off by Spring. I can cover them in burlap, but watering them in sub 30 degree weather doesn't seem reasonable.

I am at a loss. Help?


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howelbama(7 NJ)

hmmm. maybe try putting a chicken wire type frame around the towers, maybe with a 6 inch or so space all the way around, then get a bail of straw and fill it up all the way with loosely packed straw. you could probably then wrap this with burlap as well... you would probably want to extend the chicken wire cage over the top as well. don't do this until they have died back after the first frost or two. I would think this should work fairly well and not cost an arm and a leg to do. I am in NJ and grow about 200 strawberry plants, however mine are in raised beds so the soil insulates them, I do mulch them over with a thick layer of straw in the winter though and they do just fine.

btw, that must have taken quite a bit of the gritty mix to fill those towers!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 8:37PM
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According to my calculations it should have been about 13 gallons (just less than 2CF) for an 8" pipe with a 5 ft soil(less) column, 26 gallons or 3.75CF total. I was curious and had to figure it out.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 10:27AM
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The gritty mix was (relatively speaking) the easy part. I actually managed to blow the math - my measurements of volume were somehow too aggressive so i have lots of ingredients left over.

The hard parts were
a) drilling all the holes - I created a template to mark center holes and then moved down and offset (the holes are a honeycomb rather than straight up and down. Given that my drill is cordless, I was outgunned on power. I ended up borrowing a neighbor's corded drill. The mess was awful.

b) actually filling the towers - I covered the towers with newspaper held down with painter's tape. and then filled to each hole-level. I then poked a hole to push the strawberry in and then filled to the next level. I left all the newspaper on to help hold the mix in until the roots firmly lock everything in place. This cover is actually working well and I've had little spillage from the sides.

c) my garden has a heavy clay level a foot below the surface - which is why everything is in raised beds. I ended up having a handyman service come by with a power auger to punch the holes; I wasn't able to do it with a one person gas powered auger (good thing I have other skills).

My new task is to cut some 1/2 PVC to create a shell around my 2 strawberry beds and cover them with shadecloth. The rabbits are being ferocious and will end up eating all the plants before they really get established. I was hoping for a bed of green above the mulch covering them, but instead I'll have to look at a white cover which will hopefully keep them at bay.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 10:45AM
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I like your towers. They should look great covered with strawberries. Good use of space too.

I was to suggest the wire frame just as other poster suggested. I don't think you need to worry about moisture, since the top will be 'open' (I mean not covered with anything solid&waterproof, just wire keeping the straw/chopped-up fallen leaves inside; this is also a method of overwintering the fig trees, palms 7 such in colder zones), any rain and/or snow should be enough to keep them 'watered'.

In your last post you said to cut some 1/2 PVC to create a shell; do you mean 1/2 inch PVC tube?
Maybe you can use 1/2"-1" hardware cloth instead of shadecloth - the strawberries will appreciate the sun.
I do not have experience with rabbits etc, but read that you actually should burry bottom edge of the wire into the soil, otherwise the animals will just dig under.

Actually, here is some info I just found:

Barrier fencing. Constructing a simple wire fence around the part of the garden containing vegetables and other highly rabbit-vulnerable plants is an almost foolproof method for protecting plants from rabbits. Cottontails will not jump a 2-foot-high fence. Jackrabbits can jump higher if they are being chased by dogs or otherwise frightened, so
extending the height of the fence to at least 3 feet is warranted where jackrabbits are present.

A 30- to 36-inch-high fence constructed from woven wire with a mesh no larger than 1 inch is recommended for excluding rabbits. The lower end of the wire mesh should be turned outward at a 90-degree angle and buried 6 inches in the ground to discourage rabbits from digging under the fence. Regular 20-gauge poultry netting supported by stakes can provide protection from rabbits for three to five years and is inexpensive to replace. Welded wire will provide protection for longer periods.

Other option could be electric fence...spray repellents really don't work that well, they are short-term only.

Good luck growing yummy strawberries.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 6:26PM
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Not to hijack my own thread, but ...

I'm a bit concerned with covering the strawberries with either shade cloth or hardware cloth. How will the flowers get pollinated?

I have a huge roll of shade cloth and it will let in 95% of the light. I don't have hardware cloth so I would have to buy.

I'm cutting the 1/2 inch PVC into a 2 foot height and and connecting the 4 foot width (bed width) with 90 degree elbows. The shade cloth is wide enough to completely cover and then be held down with bricks along the two widths. That should keep the rabbits out.

Should I cut slices in the top of the cloth to allow bees to visit? I can't say I'm concerned that the bunnies will learn to fly and divebomb into the opening - but who knows? I mean these are Princeton-area bunnies so perhaps the Ivy League rubs off on them.

At this point it's better to get them covered and growing than to worry about berries (tough to have tasty berries on a plant with 2 leaves left).

I really don't want to build an uncovered 3' high cage from wire - too ugly, cumbersome and may serve only as a pen for the rabbits.

Since the animals have nothing better to do than spend the day trying to cirumvent my actions it's always difficult to win. Especially when I'm not much smarter than they are and they certainly outnumber me.



    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 2:35PM
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hardware cloth is actually a wire mesh, comes in many sizes (size of opening). You can use chicken wire instead, it is less expensive. I suggested hardware cloth with min. 1/2inch to 1inch openings, so any bees/pollinating insects will be able to fly thru.
Chicken wire has openings - I think - approx.1', so it is suitable.

If you read my previous post, fence of 3' tall should be enough to 'stop' bunnies from munching on your berries.
If you don't like the fence idea, if you build the frame from PVC pipes as you are planning on, you can just cover it with the wire mesh instead of shade cloth. You will have a wire-mesch covered box that will not cut on sunlight and pollinators.
The wire is not that 'visible', so I don't think you'll get ugly effect

You could also build the frame like a teepee and cover with wire mesh to get different look. Or inverted 'V'. Or inverted 'U'....options, options.

I use this methods to fight off squrrels.
The beds are protected and it actually looks neat & orderly. I use mostly 1/2" wire mesh.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 4:01PM
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Andrew, since your 'beds' are actually towers, I would think that teepee idea would look good....


    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 4:07PM
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The beds are actually beds (14x4) and the towers are separate. I covered the beds this weekend with Agribond over a frame made of 5 1/2" PVC 'brackets' (ie inverted U) and held down at the sides and ends with bricks.

Since the garden fence and raised beds are all white it is a white on white look. Not as nice as green and black on white, but hey, at least the rabbits are frustrated.

The towers with the Brunswick strawberries is flowering and berries are filling out. The Record strawberries in the other tower are just beginning to throw out flowers.

The raised beds have two other strawberries, and while they have some flowers, given the bunny damage, I'm not holding my breath for this year's taste test.

There used to be a way to directly post/link a picture into a posting without creating a link through flickr (for example). Does this still exist - I can't find it - because I'd like to post some pictures and I can't be bothered to create a flickr account with various privileges.



    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 7:17PM
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